Other than the fact that they were both christened Francis. And that the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit was inscribed on their souls on their ordination to the priesthood.
Padre Pio lived in a time of great change and confusion; a generation of Catholics in the 60s were asking if abortion was becoming more acceptable. There was a creeping idea that ‘it’s a matter of conscience’.
Right throughout his priestly ministry, Padre Pio never shirked revealing the vileness of abortion. When Padre Pio was enlightening Padre Pellegrino why he had not given absolution to a woman whose sin was abortion he said; “The day, in which people, frightened by the economic boom, from physical damages or from economic sacrifices, will lose the horror of the abortion, it will be the most terrible day for humanity. Abortion is not only homicide but also suicide.”
Padre Pio was thought to be very harsh with post-abortive women; but I took an eye-witness account from Dónal Enright who knew a woman who was initially declined absolution from Padre Pio; after which the lady reformed her life and when she returned to Padre Pio, he granted her absolution. Afterwards, Dónal (LEFT) said that ‘she smiled; looking like the happiest person alive’ and that she was certain that her life was changed for the better.
While Padre Pio was not a pro-life activist like Fr Frank; he did write an incredibly influential letter of support to Paul VI in the aftermath of Humanae Vitae. That a saint commended and endorsed the most contested encyclical of modern times was remarkable then, but for all times Padre Pio will stand out as the mystic, reader of souls, who was published in L’Osservatore Romano as having written: ‘I thank Your Holiness for the clear and decisive words You have spoken in the recent encyclical, "Humanae Vitae".’
The humble friar, who bore the wounds of Christ, said that Humanae Vitae was a ‘defense of those eternal truths which can never change with the times.’ One little know fact is that Padre Pio hung a picture of Paul VI in his cell, alongside the cherished photos of his parents.
I was not privileged to live during the time when Padre Pio walked this earth. But for my generation of twenty-something Catholics, no other priest is as synonymous with the pro-life cause for us as Fr Frank Pavone. He hails from New York and was ordained in 1988 by Cardinal John O’Connor. For eighteen years, since 1993, Fr Frank has led Priests For Life.
Like the absolute majority of the world’s population, Fr Frank does not have the vast array of spiritual gifts that Padre Pio had (including the ability to read the souls of penitents), but Fr Frank has nonetheless upheld the teachings of Humanae Vitae in his two books, Ending Abortion, Not Just Fighting It, and Pro-life Reflections for Every Day. If Padre Pio said the truths of Humanae Vitae are for all time; then Fr Frank has inherited the mission of defending them in this age. Abby Johnson credits Fr Frank in having had a vital role in her conversion; in her ‘pro-choice’ days she was an avid viewer of his TV show and he came to pray outside the clinic where she was a director.
In his time Padre Pio insisted on giving post-abortive women the best spiritual, in our age Fr Frank has been at the forefront of pioneering developments for women hurt by abortion. He has held the role of pastoral director for the US of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and of Rachel’s Vineyard, the world’s largest ministry facilitating healing after an abortion.
And now we come to the key parallels between Padre Pio and Fr Frank: how they reacted (and coped) with their priestly ministries being curtailed.
On June 11 1931, Padre Raffaele called Pio to the friary parlour and read this decree; "Padre Pio is to be stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry except the faculty to celebrate the Holy Mass, which he may continue to do provided it is done in private, within the walls of the friary, in the inner chapel, and not publicly in church".
Padre Pio answered; “God's will be done." Then he covered his eyes with his hands, bowed his head, and was emphatic that; "The will of the authorities is the will of God."
During the time of this ‘imprisonment’, Padre Pio was devoted his time to praying, studying and joking with his fellow friars. But the two year period when Padre Pio was ‘stripped of all faculties of his priestly ministry’ except a daily private Mass, caused Padre Pio great suffering. Padre Pio did not wear a frown and grumble; but in confidence he unburdened his heart to Padre Agostino.
In March 1933, When Pope Pius XI ordered representatives to see Padre Pio, they (Mgr Pasetto and Mgr Bevilaqua) found Padre Pio to be a good tempered, humorous and an entirely devout friar.
Like Padre Pio, Fr Frank has obeyed the Church hierarchy in every single regard.
As of last month, Fr Frank was recalled to his home diocese of Amarillo and has been staying in a modest, cramped convent room. When he was called to Amarillo, Fr Frank requested to return to New York for 24 hours to attend an appointment with his doctor, collect some personal items and speak with his parents. This request has been postponed and Fr Frank was told to stay in Amarillo. Bishop Zurek has since stated that he called Fr Pavone to Amarillo partly out of concern for his health and wellbeing. It is the opinion of some people closest to Fr Frank that he may need this time of rest and retreat; as he has been ‘burning the candle at both ends’ and working tirelessly in pro-life for almost two decades.
Currently, Fr Frank is situated in a convent several miles down a long dirt road, in the desolate Texan wilderness. His room, like every room in the convent has a shovel; so that he may use it to instantly kill the many snakes that slither in. Fr Frank is handed his meals on a tray and mostly eats alone, except occasionally when he is allowed to join the nuns. This sounds like a lonely existence, but Mark Crutcher who visited Fr Frank said that ‘his spirits are very high…he shows no rancour’. Fr Frank is thankful for the many e-mails he is getting from his supporters. This brings to mind Padre Pio who kept his spirits up during his ‘imprisonment’ and even played small pranks on his fellow friars.
Fr Frank is currently not appearing on ETWN, nor will any previously recorded (already ‘in the can’) programmes featuring Fr Frank be broadcasted. This is causing some to question if Fr Frank is in good standing; anyone may ring the Diocese of Amarillo, and they will confirm that Fr Frank is a priest in good standing. But Fr Frank is for most practical purposes suspended, this was explained in a September 30th letter from Bishop Zurek who wrote ‘Father Frank A Pavone remains suspended’. Msgr. Harold Waldow, vicar of clergy and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Amarillo has confirmed that Father Pavone “is suspended. He has some limited ministry in the diocese.” Fr Frank is allowed to say Mass, on occasion, for the nuns in the convent.
Fr Frank is much loved, and some pro-lifers have organised public protests against his suspension/recall to the Amarillo to live in an isolated convent. Fr Frank has discouraged public demonstrations against his suspension, and has made it clear that he is not organising or lending support to public protests.
There is a parallel here to the life of Padre Pio, in that Padre Pio deterred his followers from trying to ‘help’. During his ‘imprisonment’, Padre Pio knew that some supporters were recording scandalous information about high-profile figures in the Church hierarchy with the view to compiling a book. The supporters were hoping this would help Padre Pio to be liberated from the sanctions imposed on him – a sort of you-can’t-throw-stones-at-good-Padre-Pio. But Padre Pio was angered by news of the book-that-would-expose-the-misdemeanours-of-certain-figures-in-the-hierarchy. Talking to one of the book’s chief authors, Morcaldi, Padre Pio exclaimed; "Go, throw yourself at the foot of the Church instead of writing this garbage! Don't you set yourself up against your Mother!"
In a similar way, Fr Frank has made it clear that it is never the policy of Priests For Life to set themselves in opposition to the Church; rather they resolve ‘disagreements or miscommunications that involve the Church leadership…respectfully and behind the scenes’.
We pray for Fr Frank and for his upcoming (and no doubt pivotal) meeting with Bishop.
And also pray that – in the meantime - Fr Frank is quick with the shovel and can oust any snakes from his room.